The deep-pockets aviation lobby, in panic mode over its faltering effort to wrest control of Santa Monica Airport (SMO) land from the city’s residents, has turned to the Federal Aviation Administration for help.
The Washington-based Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) has been joined in its cry for assistance by the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA), several SMO flight schools, and big businesses and airport users like Paramount Citrus, again showing the real “special interests” trying to block the city from managing its own airport land.
Whom did the lobbyists use to be the smiling face of their complaint against Santa Monica? Popular actor (and jet pilot) Harrison Ford, who stores and flies his private fleet of aircraft at SMO. Like so many others pushing to take control of the airport from the city, Ford is not a Santa Monica resident.
The complaint to the FAA, called a Part 16 action, was expected – it’s another part of the industry’s effort to end SMO’s management by the elected City Council and its advisory Airport Commission. In March, two days after the council voted – unanimously – to explore remedies for the noise, pollution and danger from SMO’s aircraft operations, the lobbyists mounted their attack by filing for an initiative that if passed by voters would strip management of the airport from the city. AOPA and its allies were already steaming over a hike last year in SMO landing fees that signaled the end of the city’s subsidizing of aviation. For years the shortfall was made up by money from SMO’s non-aviation activities and from the city’s general fund.
The aviation lobby, flight schools, outside businesses and private pilots including Ford now want a formal ruling that federal grants require the city to continue to operate the airport until 2023, and that the city must abandon any effort to reduce aircraft operations until then. The City Council says its obligations arising from federal grants expire in 2014.
The AOPA has already spent $150,000 to get its initiative onto the November ballot. Santa Monica’s City Attorney says the measure would strip away the city’s authority to manage its many leases at SMO, possibly costing city taxpayers millions. County election authorities are currently reviewing the signatures. If there are valid signatures, expect the AOPA to spend even more to before November.